A lot of colour movies from between 1940 and around 1970 – but mainly from the ’50s and ’60s – have a very particular sheen or patina that I’ve always loved since first encountering it in The Crimson Pirate (1952). It is found in low-budget and big-budget productions alike, from the most measly movie from Hammer Film Productions and to international tent-pole features like Doctor Zhivago (1965). It’s a sort of warm technicolor feel that fortuitously imparts the story with a sense of fantasy and adventure. I don’t know how it was achieved; whether it was a deliberate style or just a consequence of the technology of that era, but it is a style that I have come to associate nostalgically with the magic and wonder of adventure cinema.
The Scarlet Blade, too, embodies this visual style. It is a not-quite-epic historical adventure set in 1648 under Cromwell’s rule. A royalist rebel known as the Scarlet Blade – a sort of British Zorro – is leading attacks on the Puritan forces. Sadly, the story suffers from a great many narrative shortcomings, the worst of which is that it is boring. The producers try to give us more history than adventure, which they are however not really sufficiently serious about to give us something properly engaging. The Scarlet Blade himself has a rather miniscule part, playing third fiddle to a dull-ish and ill-fated romantic drama between a Puritan colonel’s royalist daughter (June Thorburn) and his captain of the guard (Oliver Reed), which action is interspersed with skirmishes between Puritans and royalists. We’re constantly waiting for swashbuckling sword-fighting scenes starring the Scarlet Blade and his trusty Gypsy sidekick Pablo, but they never properly materialize. The end is bland, and one is left with the feeling that this is decidedly a substandard Hammer effort.
The acting is adequate, but no more. The movie feels most of all like a production intended to capitalize on a concept similar to The Scarlet Pimpernel. Being a part of the legendary Hammer Films catalogue, one must perforce condone the release of this movie to remastered DVD; some of the production values are good and the overall look is very nice. However, that the story itself is rather an awful bore is hard to overlook.
The DVD is fairly bare-bones; admirably, it has subtitles, and the picture quality is good, but the only extra feature is a soundless “alternative opening scene” which to my eyes were not noticeably different from the real one.
Director: John Gilling
Cast: Oliver Reed, June Thorburn, Lionel Jeffries, Jack Hedley, Michael Ripper and others
Runtime: 84 min